Research by Forrester shows that only 19% of firms considered search to be an investment priority. This in spite of findings suggesting that 70% of site search engines are unable to return relevant results when synonyms are used and that search experiences do matter, with 61% of consumers being unlikely to return to a website that does not provide a satisfactory customer experience.
Legacy Search Tech: The Roadblock to Relevance
In the era of the customer, planning to be “fast followers” won’t be enough. The gap between leaders and laggards will only continue to widen, with the former orienting themselves around delivering the best possible customer experiences and witnessing huge increases in the bottom line. Those that wait to adopt AI-powered search may never catch up. This is an important realization to make, but acting on it is easier said than done.
Delivering relevant search experiences has become even more challenging today for several reasons. With digital commerce it has become possible to escape the limits created by shelf space and geography and to start selling more and more products to wider audiences. Long tail economics has arguably opened up important business opportunities for ecommerce players. However, by shaping highly complex catalogs, it has also made it harder for search engines to ensure product discoverability and findability.
The way users search for products has changed significantly as well. Google and Amazon have trained users to start their purchase experience with a search – and they will behave the same way on your site. They expect a simplified search experience that is able to:
- Accommodate typos in search terms, which are almost inevitable on mobile devices.
- Incorporate voice search capabilities.
- Deliver relevant and tailored results on the search results page that go beyond a keyword match based on the product title.
- Enable faceted search to allow users to shift between product categories and other relevant sorting criteria.
So why aren’t companies able to meet these expectations? They’re using legacy search technologies.
These technologies fail to recommend semantically related products due to reliance on obsolete methods such as keyword matching, and they also struggle to retrieve synonyms. For example, a customer searching for a “red dress” may be perfectly happy to see a “burgundy dress”- that may even be what they actually intended to find. Yet legacy search is incapable of making this inference.
If your customers cannot find products in increasingly complex catalogs, those items cannot be purchased. Without the capacity to provide even basic relevance now, it is impossible for legacy search technologies to help prepare for what’s to come.
From Relevance to Personalization
For many years, relevance was the goal for search engines, and it’s easy to understand why. Relevance is intuitive, and it was an acceptable objective in the early days of search. Times have changed, however, especially with the rise of digital commerce.
Not only has it become increasingly difficult to deliver relevant product search experiences, but customers are now also demanding highly personalized experiences as well. Without the key tenets of relevance and personalization in place, it is impossible for digital businesses to meet customer expectations and maintain a competitive advantage. Relevance based on broad brushstroke buyer cohorts aka personas is not enough.
It is now time for personalized search functionality. It is necessary to shift the focus from persona to person.
Consider the ranking of search results. Especially with large commerce websites selling a wide variety of goods to very diverse buyer cohorts, there is no single best ordering of relevant results to search queries. For the query “Summer dress”, for example, one user may prefer v-neck mini dresses, while another user may prefer floral maxi dresses.
Companies must capture specific user preferences like these to provide a more personalized search experience. As the technologies that enable this sort of experience are advancing rapidly, it is now high time to start rethinking and redesigning the customer experience by unleashing the true power of AI technology and moving beyond legacy search. Cutting-edge AI is essential for delivering the experiences customers expect, at a time when those experiences are more important than ever.